It is with great enthusiasm that on this very wet November morning I finally sit down to write another blog post. Life is busy and it travels very fast. Lots of nice things have happened during the summer and the beginning of autumn. It has been a most beautiful, warm and sunny summer season here in West Cork, very enjoyable to have door and windows open and to practically live outside, this I adore! We have had good days and bad, one of those was Ian’s fall, but he has healed well and is back in good form now. He has been busy designing and making a glorified Zimmer frame which will help him not to have another fall.
I have attended a short course about biodiversity in West Cork run by WILD WORK and facilitated by SECAD, which I thoroughly enjoyed and learnt from. It was run locally in a most beautiful natural setting, there was also an online part to it.
But right now I would like to share some photos and chat about a visit to a Franciscan friary which my daughter and I visited during September. We were on a rare outing; in fact, we had been given the chance to go away for a weekend while Ian’s daughter Anna and her partner came over to be with him. To say that I enjoyed that weekend is an understatement, and it did me the world of good. My daughter Tjorven’s company was lovely as always.
So, we visited the interesting Muckross Abbey in Killarney which according to the Annals of the Four Masters was founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary. It is situated on the site of an earlier monastery which was built by a Saint Fionan in the 6th century. It’s remarkable that the site is still so well preserved keeping in mind its turbulent past, but with many repairs and restructuring it stands well preserved today. The building style is Hiberno Romanesque. In the embrasures of eight of the windows of the dormitory are fragments of wall paintings, this is not very noticeable, and I regret that I did not see this, only read about it later.
In the middle of the courtyard which is surrounded by a vaulted cloister stands a magnificent ancient Yew tree. It is thought to be as old as the abbey itself. Surrounding the abbey is an old graveyard and yew, beech and other native trees. The church of the abbey also contains some tombs, one of them seems to have a rusted handle!
We visited in the late evening and the place gave us that special feel that goes with observing ruins, thinking about the life the monks will have led, the stillness of the peaceful and natural surroundings felt by us now, and yet knowing what violent encounters those monks would have had over time, being driven out, returning and rebuilding, to be finally driven out in 1652 by Cromwellian forces.
This was just one of our exploits during out visit to Killarney, it was well worth spending the time there, but more of that in another blog post. Here follow some photos that speak for themeselves.
Summer has been long, warm and dry, how lovely it has been this year and still it continues though it is almost the end of September. The beautiful warm sunshine illuminates the now autumn colours. Day by day the leaves are turning red, yellow and all shades of brown. Pungent scents fill our lungs, it is a delight to our minds and souls.
My sister and I were discussing food for the soul the other day and while giving it deep thought I know what it is that often feeds my soul; it is what I find and observe in nature, meditation on it and thankfulness for it.
Last weekend my daughter took me to Killarney in Co. Kerry and one of our plans was to walk in the national forest which is one of the remaining ancient forests in Ireland with many native trees. The two days we spent there were very restorative. The beauty of the trees laden with their seeds at this time was what inspired us, we talked about it, it made us cheerful and light-hearted. We rested for coffee and cake at a thatched roof cottage and sat out in the sunshine with leaves lightly twirling around us, our conversation deep and yet full of excitement at being in a place where we felt not a care in the world.
Though this was the first time I had a break since before covid time, I have gathered quite a collection of photos over the summer that are now waiting to be used and written about in my blog. So watch this space! (I will as well 🙂 )
Ireland has around 100 different types of grasses, including native and non-native grasses, a fact of which I was not aware, but recently I bought a guide on grasses from Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre and now I am learning about them. I have always found that many grasses are beautiful and decorative and there are always plenty of them around. Especially this summer the back of our garden is full of them, full of different types and they are growing nice and tall with lots of seeds to show. I don’t know all the different names yet but am looking them up one by one.
Our garden has been left to grow all the wild plants that were willing to come up this year. There were plenty of foxgloves, thistles, sow thistles, dandelions, nettles, buttercups, borage, evening primrose, herb Robert, plantain, and many more wild plants, and of course grasses and I’ve let them all grow. This means that things were a bit overgrown the last few weeks and now I have a helper, Dave, who is moving some plants and shrubs around for me so that I can plant our winter vegetables soon.
So here follow some photos of our grasses, I find them all very beautiful and am eager to learn more about them.
And so the summer is moving along and plenty of plants are already in seed including the grasses. The wind is dispersing the seeds and it follows that next year we will probably have even more grasses, these grow at the very back of the garden on a piece of uncultivated land which I want to keep wild. Leaving the wild plants and flowers to grow has been successful and we are seeing butterflies and bees of all sorts. There is always lots to discover even in a smallish garden and that is great for the nature lover who is house bound for part of the time. It is also great for anyone.
Dear friends I hope that you are enjoying this lovely summer, or your winter and especially that you are enjoying whatever blessings that nature gives you in your own surroundings.
A windless morning in the garden. A lone robin is singing in the birch tree. Some sounds are travelling up from the town in the valley. I’m having my morning coffee outside on the patio and enjoying this beautiful and peaceful scene. Our foxgloves are almost totally in seed now, only the tops of their long stems are still a beautiful pink, they have been very good for the pollinators. This morning only a few bumblebees have visited. Seagulls and crows are flying over our airspace shouting confident cries. Sparrows are chirping in the hawthorn tree, many of them. How I love all those sounds.
Of the usual two dozen that years ago were, there are now only four swifts visiting in our area, I so miss their summery sounds above our houses and gardens.
How I enjoy all this activity in nature, and this morning is a rare break in my own daily activities, a solace to the soul, a much desired rest for the body. And yet it is there for the taking – whenever and free. A true blessing.
Some weeks ago my sister Josephine stayed with us, it had been three years since she travelled to Ireland and we were overjoyed to see her. With her she brought me this beautiful gift. A little special notebook that she bought at an exhibition of works by Gustaf Klimt in Brussels. It is so beautiful that I decided it can only contain words about beauty, and so the thought came into my mind to use it to note down some of the observations of my quieter moments. Observations in nature and in daily life. I like to share them with you.
17 May 2022
Today, in the garden I enjoyed the wild freshness after rain. I saw that our elderberry tree is about to come into flower, and that will be the first time since I planted it. The foxgloves are opening pink and beautiful. There are buttercups among other wild flowers, everywhere the growth is abundant and the trees, we have four, are looking very lush, their leaves still somewhat laden down with drops of rain. The hawthorn also has started to flower and there is a faint, delicate scent in the air. Birds started singing. I felt a breeze and now and then rain fell from fast moving clouds. These were perfect moments, I love the scent that rises from the earth after rain, it is so refreshing.
19 May 2022
The intense colour from the cineraria flowers in the Ilen street in town, the deep sky blue was a sight to behold. The scent was faint, it just caressed my nostrils and soothed my brain. Early morning in Skibbereen, the sun has just started to warm the cement of the colourful town houses. I feel good in expectation of the day ahead.
20 May 2022
It was while on my course on biodiversity with Wild Work. We were having a conversation about native woodlands and native wild plants. What took my special interest was a little wild plant that I had not seen growing here in West Cork before, it is called Sanicle (sanicula marilandica). It’s native and a woodland plant, it belongs to the carrot family, we found it on the grounds of a large woodland area.
21 May 2022
Today we cooked with aromatic spices and lentils, an Indian recipe. Alice and I enjoyed seeing all the spices come together and release their aroma, the dish we cooked was dahl. So delicious and an good dish for vegetarian Alice to learn to cook, she loved it. Earlier I was very pleased to see how well our oak-leaved lettuce were doing in the garden, the brightness of their various shades of red was invigorating.
22 May 2022
From my kitchen window I noticed the unripe fruits of the krentenboom (Amelanchier lamarckii), and it reminded me of the cycle of life; Just recently the flowers appeared, then the leaves turned the tree quite green, and now the fruits are already ripening, slowly they will become red later on in the year. I could see the parallel with our own lives and the thought that our times are fleeting moments in the greater cycle of things, of times. It is a very natural happening.
23 May 2022
While opening our front door, I looked down to the yearly new growth of the lady’s mantle and it inspired me, very beautiful and delicate, its veins like capillaries in our own bodies, green instead of red, dark green actually on the light green leaf… spreading out from its twig. Perfection!
I hope you enjoyed a glimpse in my little book of observations, it has been a pleasure to share them with you.
Yes a little detour in this remote part of Ireland is always exciting to say the least, I knew that I was going to do it, I knew that I was going to take photos and I also knew that it was going to be a lovely break. So after my appointment in Bantry I drove into a little side lane off the N71 and followed it down to the rocky seashore. Magnificent views of Bantry bay with the Caha mountains in the distance greeted me. I strolled along the path leading beside the air-strip, quite a few people and dogs were walking there and one man had his fishing rod out into the sea. The rocks were colourful. The air smelled of seaweed and was very fresh. Somewhere far away I could hear a blackbird singing, one of my favourite birdsongs. When I walked back to my car this last view surprised me, I thought that I could easily have been in Canada probably because of the lovely pine trees. Peaceful and at the same time invigorating, this little diversion to my day gave me plenty, I realised all of a sudden that I had been doing an exercise that my recently bought book on photography in nature advised me. That is, spending 10 minutes in nature, breathing deeply, really observing nature, taking note of what you see, hear, smell and how that makes you feel, how that affects the photos, and all that even while I often spend much longer in nature, but then I probably don’t always take it in so intensely.
It’s that time of year when work starts seriously in our gardens. But the first outdoor job for me is to walk among my plants, see what is growing, analyse and decide what to leave and what to move or remove. And that’s what I have been doing during the week. Lots of delightful discoveries came my way. Many self-seeding plants had already come up during last autumn and survived our mild winter, others are still only appearing, delicately but vigorously. Foxgloves for example have self-seeded last autumn and have shown strong leaves even after the frosty nights. The garden is full of them, I’ve moved some of the young plants to other areas as they packed out the vegetable beds, but many I left where they came growing because of the beautiful natural arrangement they made. The base leaves of the foxgloves are very nice, very symmetrical, so satisfying for the eye. At this time of the year the leaves look fresh and vibrant.
Three-cornered Leek is another wild plant that is flourishing right now, loads of it, and even while I use it in cooking, it has overgrown some of the vegetable beds so a decision has been made to eradicate a lot of it by pulling the little bulbs from the soil. Many Dandelions are now in flower and feeding the pollinators. Most of these bright yellow flowers will stay, some to be used in salads later. Young nettles are starting to make an appearance too, I picked some for tea, some I removed but others I will let grow as they are an amazing food filled with minerals both for humans and plants. Borage and Feverfew are growing nicely, and the comfrey (for compost) are all appearing healthy and robust, in fact the Borage is coming into flower already.
Most of my herbs are starting to look healthy but apart from Sage, Rosemary, Bay leaf and Mallow they are still to tender and young to use in the kitchen. My Lemon Verbena died during the winter, I should have grown this plant in a pot and taken it inside as it is not frost-proof, I now realise. It makes a wonderful tea so I will buy a new plant and pot it up.
All the flowering shrubs are starting to look more vibrant now, some, like the white Azalea, the Daphne, and the Californian Lilac are already in bud and the Viburnum is fully in flower and spreading its scent over the patio, wonderful! I was looking for signs of the Houttuynia but could not see any yet. The Hypericum on the other hand is showing strong signs of life and even the Spiraea is carefully starting to show some leaves. Our Forsythia is finally giving us some lovely flowers but our Camellia has not flowered for several years, it needs attention. Then there are the perennials some of which I bought, some I sowed last year. Here Erysimum is a wonderful plant, it has been flowering from early spring last year until well in the winter and already it has started to flower again. I think we used to call this plant a wallflower. The small blue flowers of the Lithodora have flowered most of the winter, this is a wonderful border perennial. Marigolds are self-seeded in our garden and are always around, I use the petals and I love their bright and cheerful colours. I also found quite a few young Herb Robin and Willow herb plants, some of those I leave as they are rather nice and very good for the pollinators. One of the plants in our garden that attracts most pollinators, bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and others is the white little flower of the oregano plant. Different spring bulbs are flowering too giving plenty of cheer in the awakening garden.
And among all these there are still last autumn’s Leeks, Kale, Broccoli and Spinach to be found, we are eating from those.
Now it is a case of finding space for our potatoes which are presently chitting inside. Other vegetables have been sown and are sprouting well. The abundance of plants, wild and cultured is welcome and amazing, and lording it over it all our Hawthorn, Birch, Chestnut and Oak trees are filled with the sound of finches, sparrows, black birds, a wren, a robin and a dunnock singing, chattering and mate calling… our wild garden… it is a wonderful place to work in or sit with a cup of tea taking a rest, admiring all this growth.
No matter how small, our gardens can be an oasis of rest and replenishment of our energy, and giving us solace for our souls.